Now that training camp is underway, and the roster for the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: WR James Washington
Stock Value: Up
Outside of the defense, arguably the most significant development for the Steelers going forward that occurred during the 20119 season was the maturation of the team’s two young receivers not named JuJu Smith-Schuster. I would put the advancement seen in James Washington, relative to his rookie year, as a more significant development than that of Diontae Johnson’s first year in the league, so I’m electing to talk about that first.
And the most exciting thing, to me, is the fact that he did this while playing with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, rather than with Ben Roethlisberger, who is of course the better quarterback. Granted, Rudolph was his college quarterback, but he actually put up some of his best numbers with Hodges under center anyway.
During his rookie season, Washington caught an insanely low 42 percent of his passes, just 16 receptions on 38 targets. There were perhaps a couple of drops in there, but it was more due to route running and a high percentage of low-chance opportunities. He did produce 217 yards for one touchdown.
This past season, however, he caught 44 passes for 735 yards and three touchdowns. You still wish that he scored more, but when Johnson leads the team with five receiving touchdowns, you know it’s a bad year overall. And while his overall catch rate improved, it got better over the course of the season.
He finished at 55 percent, but it was over 64 percent over the final nine games. And that was with a bad finale in which he dropped two passes. But that was a rough game for everybody in the driving rain. I have the team with five drops on just 22 targeted throws (there were four throwaways).
There’s no doubt that Washington showed significant progress in year two, but he still needs to pick it up and take his game to another level. He’s still somewhat one-dimensional (perhaps two-dimensional). His route-running is only average, and he still appears to be making schematic misreads. He needs to be more consistent making plays on the ball in the air as well.